Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Open Topic: The Many Faces of Communication

I believe all of us have been in situations where we needed to “put on different masks” in order to ensure effective communication or to avoid conflicts. I have come to realize how this is truly an important skill especially when the people you are interacting with are of different status or come from different cultures and background.

One of my experiences which demonstrated the importance of this ability to switch between different communication methods with different people would be my work experience as a Customer Service Officer (CSO) at a local gym, Fitness First Singapore Pte Ltd (Fitness First for short). I was based at the club at One George Street (OGS) when I was 18 and fresh out of “A” levels, and at the club at Paragon when I was 21 and having my summer break. In both my experience as CSO with Fitness First, I was the only Chinese and the rest were mostly Malays with only one Indian having once been a colleague of mine for a few weeks during the time when I was 18.

When I was at OGS, I got entangled into work politics even though I was only a part-timer. Thinking back, it seemed that some of my colleagues did not like my apparent “atas” attitude (“atas” means high-class in Malay). In actual fact, I simply had no clue how I should behave in front of my colleagues who were pretty much very culturally different from me. All of them smoked while I have always been a non-smoker. Then, I was very much a school girl who went by the book and did not know how things worked in the real world.

On the other hand, though the situation at Paragon was similar to that at OGS then (at Paragon, all my colleagues were Malays), work at Paragon was much more pleasant. I would attribute that to the fact that I tried to blend into their work culture by following what they did, but at the same time not compromising my personality. I followed them when they went for “smoking breaks”; it seemed very much approved and they seemed happy to invite me for such activities after that, I spoke with some Malay accent thinking it would make them feel accepted and not challenged; it seemed to work and they even tried to bring me into their conversations by speaking more English when I was around.

I am pretty sure all of us have behaved in different ways when dealing with different situations, and it is both interesting and insightful especially when we look back and realize the consequences of our actions and perhaps, our “inactions” as well.

One may say, doesn’t this lead to being multi-faceted and perhaps being hypocritical? It may actually not be so. As I remember from my course in Social Psychology, every one of us has many different selves which make up one complete self, hence allowing us to properly function and to adopt different selves to adapt to ever-changing situations. It is inherent in every one of us to be multi-faceted and even so, we are able to present our true self. What do you think?